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My Own Brain Working Against Me
By Fay Funk
When I still lived in New York City, I would go for a walk every night. After dinner I would set my homework aside, put on my shoes and headphones, and head out the door. I always went the same route; straight down 5th Avenue to 9th Street, then down 7th Avenue until about 1st Street.
I walked past the same darkly-lit bars and interchangeable bodegas. The same closet-sized coffee shop, and the same knock-off fried chicken restaurant, Kennedy Fried Chicken. As I got closer to Park Slope, the hole-in-the-wall Chinese and Mexican take-out places transformed into sit-down diners, and then into fancy cafés and bistros. The bars here featured kitchens and mood-lighting, and enough room to fit your entire group of friends, instead of just one or two. The small coffee houses were replaced with a Starbucks. Instead of bodegas, small boutiques with clothes I could never dream of affording dotted every corner. Everything was still packed tightly together, but in Park Slope it was done to be cute and quaint, rather than out of necessity, like it was by my home.
On weekends I changed things up a bit. I would walk down 6th Avenue until 12th Street, then walk up to 8th Avenue and eat brunch. There were fewer businesses on 6th Avenue; instead it was lined with the townhouses that were a common feature in my neighborhood. They started out like mine, skinny three story buildings that were home to two or three different families. The further I walked the wider and taller the townhouses became, adding yards and floors, and owned by only one family. They were homes I could never imagine living in.
Walking around Park Slope is one of my strongest and fondest memories from my last year in New York. But remembering those walks has always felt a bit strange. I may remember them as relaxing and beautiful, but they were really more of a desperate coping mechanism, for dealing with the stress of my senior year of college, my imminent move back across the country, and the realization that, despite dreaming about it since I was fourteen, I didn’t like living in New York City. The things I was dealing with most of the time are a dark blur now, but I can still remember those brief walks in great detail.
For a long time I didn’t understand why I could remember those walks so well, while all the negative things, the important reasons I left New York City, were not as clear. It upset me. It felt like my own brain was working against me, trying to convince me that I was happy during that time when I know I was not. So I would force myself to remember all the bad things: the tiny bedrooms with only slit windows, facing a wall. The thousands of dollars I paid for rent. The scammers and predators at every turn. Crowded subways, constant horn-honking, and awful smells.
Nostalgia for Park Slope does not bother me anymore. The fond memories do not cause me any harm so long as I’m aware of the reasons I left. Bringing up the bad memories only causes me stress over things that no longer matter. I do still think it’s odd though, that when reflecting on the past, we usually recall the happy memories first, while in the moment we can often only focus on the negative. My conflicting feelings over my walks really brought that to my attention.
For the past year, I have been trying to be happy in the moment, and to try and remember the past with as much accuracy as possible. It’s not always easy. Moving back in with my parents, being far away from my closest friends, and a period of unemployment were very tempting things to feel negatively about. So I created my own happiness, by getting out of the house, and looking for music and friends. That, I realize now, is what I did when I walked all over Park Slope. I created my own happiness.